Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday Freebie: Fires of Our Choosing by Eugene Cross, This Will Be Difficult to Explain by Johanna Skibsrud, and This Isn't the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You by Jon McGregor

Congratulations to Jim Carmin, winner of last week's Friday Freebie: The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel.

This week, in honor of Short Story Month, I've got three new books to give away to one winner: Fires of Our Choosing by Eugene Cross, This Will Be Difficult to Explain by Johanna Skibsrud, and This Isn't the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You by Jon McGregor.  Yes, you heard me right: three fantastic short story collections going to one lucky reader.  Here are the summaries and critical praise for each of them:

In Fires of Our Choosing (Dzanc Books), a boy acts out at the death of his father and abandonment by his brother through a savage playground beating; a young man confronts his own troubled history when asked to hire on his girlfriend's strung-out brother in an attempt to keep him out of prison; a teenage babysitter works through a scorching-hot summer afternoon that will prove to alter her life forever; a grieving widower finds comfort in the unlikeliest of places, a recently-built casino; an itinerant farm worker visits the same former lover in South Dakota year after year while following the Harvest north; two friends search for excuses and fail to claim responsibility for their own decisions after one loses his father, and the other's house burns to the ground; and a taxidermist falls in love with the ex-wife of his high school bully and tries to convince her to marry him despite her son who seems to share his father's bullying mentality.  The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote: "Writers of short fiction could go to school on these 12 stories, not only because Mr. Cross so easily handles the rules of short story writing, but because, like a master, he breaks as many rules as he obeys.  Many of his endings are not resolutions but carefully crafted beginnings, leaving us satisfied while yearning for more."

Here's a taste of what you'll get in the nine stories of This Will Be Difficult to Explain (W. W. Norton): A young maid at a hotel in France encounters a man who asks to paint her portrait, only later discovering that the man is someone other than who she thinks.  A divorced father, fearing estrangement from his thirteen-year-old daughter, allows her to take the wheel of his car, realizing too late that he’s made a grave mistake.  A Canadian girl and her French host stumble on the one story that transcends their language barrier.  Youth confronted with the mutterings of old age, restlessness bounded by the muddy confines of a backyard garden, callow hope coming up against the exigencies of everyday life—these are life-defining moments that weave throughout the everyday lives of the remarkable characters in this book.  Time and again they find themselves confronted with what they didn’t know they didn’t know, at the exact point of intersection between impossibility and desire.  Fiction Writers Review praised Skibsrud's collection by saying "This Will Be Difficult to Explain is a slim, lime-colored book with a picture of a lackadaisical girl on the cover.  It holds nine stories in just one hundred and sixty-nine pages, but although the book feels light in the hand, the stories pack a concentrated, emotional punch.  Throughout, the writing follows a particular kind of literary formula, a type of late-century naturalism mixed with minimalism, meaning the ingredients include unpretentious language, ordinary characters, and simple situations that, as the characters live through them, grow increasingly difficult."

After three novels, McGregor turned his attention to short fiction in This Isn't the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You (Bloomsbury).  Set among the lowlands and levees, the fens and ditches that mark the spare landscape of eastern England, the stories expose lives where much is buried, much is at risk, and tender moments are hard-won.  The narrators of these delicate, dangerous, and sometimes deeply funny stories tell us what they believe to be important--in language inflected with the landscape's own understatement--while the real stories lie in what they unwittingly let slip.  A man builds a tree house by a river in preparation for a coming flood.  A boy sets fire to a barn.  A pair of itinerant laborers sit by a lake and talk,while fighter-planes fly low overhead and prepare for war.  This Isn't the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You is an intricate exploration of isolation, self-discovery, and the impact of place on the human psyche.  The Guardian wrote: "Fans of his novels, in which he has finessed his own inimitable style, won't be disappointed.  They will find all the linguistic risk, the formal experimentation, the authorial compassion of his earlier works--and more.  McGregor's fiction resembles those fairy stories in which size and scale are unstable, except that it isn't his protagonists who can suddenly loom into giants, it's the workings of his plots.  His debut, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, was a novel dedicated to how the tiny mathematics of human lives can have enormous consequences.  He is a writer much concerned with the minutiae of existence; minor events in human lives assume, in McGregor's fictional world, colossal scale."

If you'd like a chance at winning all three of these new books, all you have to do is answer this question (which this week is more of a poll than a trivia question):

What is your favorite short story or short story collection?

Email your answer to

Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line.  One entry per person, please.  Please e-mail me the answer, rather than posting it in the comments section.  Despite its name, the Friday Freebie runs all week long and remains open to entries until midnight on May 17--at which time I'll draw the winning name.  I'll announce the lucky reader on May 18.  If you'd like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week Quivering Pen newsletter, simply add the words "Sign me up for the newsletter" in the body of your email.  Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning?  Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter.  Once you've done either or both of those, send me an additional e-mail saying "I've shared" and I'll put your name in the hat twice.

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